Sense and (In)Sensitivity: A Delphic Duologue

"Norma [Lady Harte] and Rosemary [the recently-widowed Mrs. Clement Kane] were the sole occupants of the drawing-room, Sir Adrian [Norma's husband] having drifted away to the library. When Jim [Kane] and Patricia [Miss Allison] came in through the French windows Norma [Jim's mother by her first husband, James Kane, who was killed in the Great War] was seated bolt upright at a card-table, energetically playing a complicated Patience [i.e. Solitaire], and telling Rosemary at the same time how much happier she would be if she found an Object in life.

"Rosemary was quite in agreement with this, but explained that her Russian blood made it impossible for her to remain constant to any one Object for longer than a few months at a stretch.

"'My dear girl, don't talk nonsense to me!' said Norma bracingly. 'You're lazy, that's all that's wrong with you. Why don't you take up social work?'

"'I don't think my health would stand it,' replied Rosemary. 'I'm one of those unfortunate people whose nerves simply go to pieces as soon as they're bored.'

"'Thank God I don't know what it is to have nerves!' said Norma.

"'Yes, you're lucky. I don't suppose you even feel the atmosphere in this awful house,' said Rosemary, shuddering.

"'All imagination!' declared Norma, briskly shuffling the cards.

"'Of course, I knew you would say that.  All the same, there is a dreadful atmosphere here.  I expect you have to be rather sensitive to feel it.'

"Lady Harte raised her eyes from the cards.  'I do not in the least mind being thought insensitive, Rosemary; but as I fancy you meant that remark as a slur on my character, I can only say that it was extremely rude of you,' she said severely.

"This rejoinder was so unexpected that Rosemary, colouring hotly, was for the moment bereft of speech.  Lady Harte, laying her cards out with a firm hand, took advantage of her silence to add: 'The sensitiveness you vaunt so incessantly, my good girl, does not seem to take other people's feelings into account.  If you talked less about yourself and thought more of others, you would not only be a happier woman, but a great deal pleasanter to live with into the bargain.'

"'Of course, I know I'm very selfish,' replied Rosemary with the utmost calm.  'You mustn't think I don't know myself through and through, because I do.  I'm selfish, and terribly temperamental and fickle.'

"'You are not only selfish,' said Lady Harte; 'you are indolent, shallow, parasitic, and remarkably stupid.'

"Rosemary got up, roused at last to anger.  She said, in a trembling voice: 'How very funny!  Really, I can hardly help laughing!'

"'Laugh away,' advised Lady Harte, her attention on Miss Allison.

"'When you have seen your husband shot before your very eyes,' said Rosemary, a trifle inaccurately, 'perhaps you will have some comprehension of what it means to suffer.'

"Lady Harte raised her eyes and looked steadily up at the outraged beauty.  'My husband, as I think you are aware, died of his wounds twenty years ago.  I saw him die.  If you think you can tell me anything about suffering, I shall be interested to hear it.'

"There was an uncomfortable silence.  'Sometimes I feel as though I should go out of my mind!' announced Rosemary.  'No one has the least understanding of my character.  Good night!'

"'Good night,' said Lady Harte.

"The door shut with a decided bang behind Rosemary.  Jim moved forward from the window, where he and Patricia had remained rooted during this remarkable duologue.  'Really, mother!' he expostulated.

"'A little plain speaking is what is wanted in this house!' said Norma roundly.  'The idea of that young baggage telling me I don't know what it is to suffer!  She --!  Why, she's revelling in being a widow!  Do you think I can't see what's under my nose?  Atmosphere!  Bah!'"

--Georgette Heyer, They Found Him Dead (1937; Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2007), pp. 216-19.

As the oracle once said, "Know thyself."  Ah.  Yes.  Well.  Ahem.  I love Georgette Heyer, don't you?  Almost as much as Dorothy Sayers, only more so for the way in which she lampoons Rosemary--and her oh-so-sensitive selfishness--here.  What d'ya say?  Rosemary 0, Lady Harte 10.  Bah!


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